This is a guest blog post by NAF, a national network of education, business and community leaders who work together to ensure high school students are college, career and future ready.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the demand for STEM workers grows at the third highest rate of all fields – with a projection of 17 percent growth from 2008-2018. STEM workers earn as much as 26 percent more than others and command higher salaries, even when they work in non-STEM occupations. Yet while companies have open positions, they do not have skilled applicants available to take on these growing opportunities.
On top of that, there is a severe lack of diversity in STEM, with only 17 percent of tech leaders being female and a striking 4 percent being of ethnic minorities. When a major industry’s leadership does not represent the demographics of the country, not only do minorities suffer from lack of opportunity, but business suffers from the lack of innovation and diverse perspective that helps companies thrive and progress.
This is why it is imperative that we prepare the future workforce to be STEM ready, and more than that, why we need to extend opportunities to young people in the highest need of guidance, inspiration and opportunity.
NAF has made it a priority to strengthen STEM education for the next generation. With a focus in high-need communities, NAF brings together the business and education sectors to transform the high school experience. Focusing on growing industries, NAF has dedicated nearly 350 academies to STEM-related fields, with approximately 50,000 students enrolled in these programs across America. With 32 percent of these students being of minority backgrounds, they represent double the amount of minorities currently in the STEM workforce. With a STEM focus across all academy themes, NAF reaches nearly 90,000 students.
NAF places a special emphasis on inspiring young women to enroll in STEM education so that they may witness how their contributions are changing the global landscape and paving the way for women everywhere. With few females in STEM leadership positions, finding role models and people for young girls to look up to can be a challenge, but NAF is working to change that. Forty-one percent of NAF STEM students are female, compared to the 24 percent currently in the STEM workforce.
Additionally, NAF’s corporate partners are doubling down on their commitments to the cause. For example, a dynamic partnership between Lenovo, NAF and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called the Lenovo Scholar Network has provided the opportunity for thousands of future innovators around the country the opportunity to learn how to build mobile apps. In the process, students are learning the entrepreneurial and technological skills needed to pursue careers in computer science, programming and engineering – all growing STEM industries. Western Union is also another example of a corporate partner answering the call and providing funding to NAF to develop recruitment strategies to help encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM.
But the biggest investment we’ve seen so far are the companies that have joined NAFTrack Certified Hiring, which promises to give students with receive a NAFTrack Certification preferred hiring opportunities all throughout their career. These partners see the importance of investing early and continuing to remain connected. Their involvement ensures the future workforce has the skills and knowledge needed to success in STEM.
There is not a single solution to the issues facing our nation when it comes to workforce development. The solution lies in putting our heads together, reaching across sectors and calling on the strengths of the industries to dedicate some of their resources to the future. The leaders of tomorrow have the greatest potential to take on the challenges of tomorrow. All we have to do is invest in them.